The Myth of India and Coal
“India’s Energy Crisis,” by Richard Martin
(November/December 2015), is near
comprehensive in its coverage of India’s
dilemma, but it falls back upon a set of
myths—intuitively reasonable, ultimately
wrong—that perpetuate the assumption
that coal is India’s top priority.
The first big myth is that coal will
end India’s “energy poverty.” But not all
energy poverty is electric. Over three times
as many Indians lack clean and modern
cooking as lack electricity. Electric stoves
remain expensive and watt-hungry, so
tackling three-quarters of India’s energy
poverty requires better markets and public programs for cleaner gas and biomass
cookstoves. This has little to do with electricity supply—from coal or anything else.
Another myth is that coal will bring
India cheap, reliable power. But coal won’t
solve grid reliability problems. India’s
notorious blackouts are as often imposed
by distribution companies to manage
demand from nonpaying consumers as
they are caused by supply shortages.
Coal also faces stiff price competi-
tion from wind and solar. Martin cites
Skypower’s winning bid in Madhya
Pradesh; SunEdison also just won a
solar auction in Andhra Pradesh. He dis-
misses these open bids as “unrealistically
low prices,” but he ignores the fact that
the bids are backed by global companies
entering long-term binding contracts. He
also misses the broader economic bene-
fits: renewables insulate distribution com-
panies from fuel-price volatility, they don’t
burden trade balances, and they reduce
The myths found in Martin’s article
make clear that the conversation around
coal power in India hasn’t yet made sense
of the available data.
Ilmi Granoff is an attorney in environmental law and policy, and a senior
research fellow at the Overseas Development Institute.
India’s blackouts are as often imposed by distribution
companies as they are caused by supply shortages.